Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Usher's Old Vatted Glenlivet

'Freedom and Whisky gang thegither', wrote Robert Burns in 1786. The fiery local spirit that he enjoyed so much now boasts worldwide brands, each with a sophisticated baggage of wood finishes and production techniques.
Burns would have been amazed!

So was I, by the schedule for a day guiding an Australian couple: Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenlivet. But all became clear, since Jarrod, bartender at the Castle Hill Tavern, Sydney, knew whisky and this was the highlight of his European trip!

They enjoyed each distillery, but The Glenlivet seemed to take the honours. Glenlivet is also a favourite of mine for different reasons.

In Scotland we don't use the expression 'single malt'. It's either malt (from one distillery) or it's blended (many whiskies including grain whiskies). But it was not always so. To produce a consistent, and palatable brand in 1853 was a challenge and led to the first mixture of malts, known as a vatted malt (as opposed to a single malt). It was called Usher's Old Vatted Glenlivet or 'OVG' and is arguably the only vatted malt ever to have become an established brand.

Andrew Usher established himself as the pioneer of whisky blending: he already held the exclusive right to distribute Glenlivet south of the Highlands and in 1885 he founded a grain distillery in Edinburgh, so building the twin pillars of his success. In 1890 the firm of Andrew Usher & Co. of Leith had the largest bonded warehouse in the world.

I have only seen one Old Vatted Glenlivet bottle, and that was in my sister's farmhouse kitchen in East Lothian where it was filled with paraffin. It may still be there, but its presence was no coincidence, as Andrew Usher was our great grandfather.

My connection with the great man promoted me, I think, from an average tour guide to an exceptional one in the view of these particular clients. And it may contribute to a good story one Burns Night, back in Sydney.

It seems 'Whisky' is still a little used word in the USA. I normally hear 'Scotch' or 'Single Malt'. So "Freedom and Whisky gang thegither" probably never resonated over there, even in 1786 when Freedom was quite an issue. But later, in the 1860s, whilst Andrew Usher was working his alchemy in Scotland, Abraham Lincoln was carrying a leather bound volume of Burns works with him wherever he went. When asked to propose a toast to the bard, he replied, "I can not frame a toast to Burns. I can say nothing worthy of his generous heart and transcendent genius."

Some might say the same of Andrew Usher whose generous heart stretched to bequeathing the City of Edinburgh with its fine concert venue, The Usher Hall. All on the back of The Glenlivet!


Anonymous said...

I have a bottle ofsher's old Vatted Glenlivet in my possession, and I am wondering how I might get more information on it....the only date that is on the bottle is 1907 but I find it hard to believe that is the date when it was bottled in Edinburgh...Could you suggest where I might find more information.

Alastair Cunningham said...

What remains of Ushers is part of the Diageo stable but I fear they won't care very much; PR contacts are at You may also like to try the Scottish Malt Whisky Society or the Scotch Whisky Association
It would be interesting to hear what you find out.

Zimbali said...

I have a sealed bottle of this vatted malt bottled in 1874 which I am considering selling.

Alastair Cunningham said...

Hi Zimbali. Interesting. Could you possibly post a picture.

Barb B from Atlantic Iowa said...

Hello Alastair! I believe we may be cousins! My ancestors were Ushers and is all I know about the Scottish Ushers is that they were involved in the Glenlivet distillery. There were three brothers that came to the United States (and I'm sorry that I don't have dates), and eventually ended up in east central Iowa, where they ran a ferry across the Cedar River.

Alastair Cunningham said...

Hello Barb,

I will have a look at my book on the Usher Family in Scotland and get back to you. I know that several set off across the pond. Please give me an email address so that we can correspond directly.I am at